Try as he might, Gary Coupal just can't contain his emotions. Three years ago Coupal, then a 20-year-old forward for the Sudbury Wolves of the junior Ontario Hockey League, let go with a bit of reckless stick swinging, whacking an opposing player over the head, and earned himself a 46-game suspension. In December 1996, as a member of the Columbus Chill of the professional East Coast Hockey League, he reached around a glass partition and knocked out an opposing player with his stick. That cost him 49 games, a league record. "I was immature back then," he says now, with a sigh.
Recently, the mature Coupal exploded yet again. On Dec. 28, while playing for the aptly named Muskegon Fury of the United Hockey League, he argued a spearing call and received a 10-minute misconduct penalty near the end of a game against the Quad City Mallards. While being escorted off the ice by an official, Coupal broke his fiberglass stick over his knee and tossed it into the stands. Although no one was hurt, less than a week later league commissioner Richard Brosal banned the King of Pain for life, without appeal, saying, "It is a priority of this league to clean things up and not let the old-school ways continue."
"I think I got a bad deal," said Coupal a week later, after returning home to Capreol, Ont. "I thought it was going to be 10 games, not life. I've tried hard to change my reputation this year. I was playing well. I'd only gotten in four fights. It seems like they used my past against me, and I'm not sure that's right."
Muskegon coach Paul Kelly also has his doubts, calling the ban "inconsistent with hockey." Maybe so, but the penalty sounds perfectly consistent with Coupal's record of Slap Shot thuggery. Says Brosal, "I believe Gary is a good person. But I hope he gets a chance to work on controlling his anger before he joins another club."
He'll have to work fast. Last week Coupal, who had seven goals, five assists—and 101 penalty minutes—in 25 games with the Fury, signed to play with the Belton, Texas-based Central Texas Stampede of the Western Professional Hockey League.
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